Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Horns of Hattin -- An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"



On July 4, 1187, the Sultan of Cairo and Damascus, Salah ad-Din (Saladin) crushed the feudal army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem under the command of King Guy. It was a devastating defeat that led to the complete collapse of the entire kingdom. But it was the decision to leave the springs at Sephorie on the night of July 2 that had decided the battle. Despite the fact that Saladin had captured the important town of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, the barons of Jerusalem almost unanimously advised King Guy against marching to the relief of the beleaguered citadel of Tiberias because they recognized that this would be fatal. King Guy appeared to accept their advice, but in the middle of the night he changed his mind and ordered the advance. His change of heart is attributed to a night encounter with the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Gerard de Ridefort. No one knows now what was said in the king's tent on the early hours of July 3, 1187, but what follows is a fictional hypothesis from Defender of Jerusalem:

Guy was finding it hard to sleep. An army of this size was never entirely quiet. Sentries paced, horses nickered, men moved back and forth to the latrines on the edge of the camp …. Guy was annoyed and wanted to shout at everyone to be quiet. He needed his sleep.


But even if they had all been silent, the camp bed was uncomfortable. The air was still and oppressively hot. It stank too — of smoke from the camp-fires, horse manure, the pork fat that his squires had used to oil his chainmail, garlic from someone’s dinner, and urine from some sentry too lazy to go the latrines. Guy kicked off his sheet and tried to make himself comfortable on his belly, but a mosquito was soon tormenting him. Exasperated Guy sat up, swatting furiously at it.

“Annoying, aren’t they?” A voice said out of the darkness.

“Who’s there?” Guy challenged in alarm, his heart pounding. He was the King! People were not supposed to enter his tent unannounced. He had two knights posted outside to prevent this.

“It’s just me. Rideford,” came the answer.

Guy did not see why the Templar Grand Master should have been allowed into his tent any more than anyone else. He frowned, determined to reprimand his knights at the first opportunity. Right now he had to deal with the Templar Master, who had moved closer to stand directly over his bed. “We need to talk,” Rideford announced.

“Now? In the middle of the night?” Guy challenged him petulantly.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because you cannot let the decision made in Council stand. It is dishonorable, dangerous and discrediting.”

Guy was in no mood for this lecture. They’d argued for hours and no matter how vigorously Oultrejourdain and Rideford had presented their cases, the overwhelming majority of the barons had sided with Tripoli.

Rideford sank down on his heels to be at Guy’s eye level. He kept his voice very low. “Tripoli is a traitor. Everything he says is to Saladin’s advantage.”

Guy rolled his eyes and groaned slightly. “Stop it, Rideford. I know you hate him, but he has paid homage to me and he has brought his troops here. I’m tired of you nagging at me all the time just because you want your revenge on Tripoli for some girl! It discredits you not me.”
“Alright. Don’t believe me, but how can he be so certain no harm will come to his lady, if he didn’t arrange all this with Saladin in advance?”

Guy shook his head to indicate this argument convinced him no more than the rest. “No one thinks the lady herself was in great danger. Even her sons conceded that.”

Rideford shrugged. “Perhaps, but that’s not really what’s at stake here is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the Lady of Tiberius, the Countess of Tripoli, is one of your vassals and you are honor bound to assist her if she is in need, so it really doesn’t matter what will happen to her personally if you don’t — your inaction reflects poorly on you. It was your inaction four years ago, remember, which made King Baldwin take the regency away.” Rideford had hit a nerve, and he saw Guy stiffen in the darkness. He pressed his advantage.

“You’re the king, aren’t you? Why do you let your barons tell you what to do?”

“Every king has a council,” Guy retorted irritably.

“Yes, and they listen to the council — but then they make their own decisions. They don’t let their barons dictate what is to be done.”

 “I’m not letting anyone dictate to me!” Guy retorted defensively, and Rideford smiled in the darkness.

“No?” The Templar Master asked.

“No!” Guy insisted.

“But what did you want to do when you received that messenger from the Countess of Tripoli?” Guy had jumped up, full of chivalrous energy. He’d been on the brink of ordering the army to march at once, through the night, to reach Tiberius. Now he frowned, remembering that, although he said nothing. “Your instinct was to relieve Tiberius, wasn’t it?” Rideford pressed him.

Guy still didn’t answer but his scowl was deeper.

“You are the King,” Rideford repeated. “Don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t lose everyone’s respect by inaction. Do what your instincts tell you to do. Take this army to Tiberius and crush Saladin!”

“His army is bigger than ours,” Guy complained, still uncertain.

“But we have God on our side. We have the True Cross with us. How can you doubt our victory? Do you not think Christ is intimidated by the hoards of Mohammed?”

Guy caught his breath.

“Lead this army to Tiberius, your grace, and with the Grace of God you will win a great victory! You will forever be remembered as the Savior of Jerusalem! Your name will eclipse that of Godfrey de Boullion and Henry Plantagenet. Why, if you shatter Saladin’s army, what is to stop you from taking Damascus? Or Cairo? Or both?”

“We march at dawn!”


Defender of Jerusalem describes the events leading up to Hattin, the battle itself and the immediate aftermath, including the fall of Jerusalem.

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